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Domestic violence victims face cultural barriers

While the occurrence of domestic violence is indiscriminate, finding help can be like wandering though a maze hitting one wall after another — a deadly wall at that.

In the past five years seven battered women and one child have been killed by their abusers in Kitsap County. Statewide, 133 women and 19 children have died.

The Kitsap County Domestic Violence Task Force 2002 summit held Tuesday, Oct. 1 at Crossroads Neighborhood Church centered around diversity and overcoming barriers within and between cultures.

Keynote speaker Margaret Hobart with the Coalition Against Domestic Violence Fatality Review Project based in Seattle pointed out blockages in the system that keep limited-English speaking and poor women from getting the help they need.

“Domestic violence is impoverishing,” Hobart said. Abusers typically block access to money and employment to keep control over their victims.

“Poverty compounds problems associated with getting safe,” she said.

Just as detrimental to escaping an abusive relationship is the language barriers intrinsic to the criminal justice system, Hobart said.

She told a chilling account of a woman who called 911 on her cell phone after her husband threatened to kill her. In a heavily accented voice, the woman gave her address and waited for help. Meanwhile the man had grabbed their two children, gotten in the car and was driving through the neighborhood looking for her.

Dispatchers told her to go back to her house because officers were waiting to help her. But it was the wrong house.

Law enforcement officers were dispatched to a different address because dispatchers could not discern the numbers because of the woman’s accent. The man attempted to runover the woman with the car, Hobart said.

She said had the dispatcher asked for individual address numbers, help would have been there sooner.

When officers arrive to a domestic violence scene where the victim speaks little English, there is often not adequate translation of the victim’s account of what happened and therefore not enough information to prosecute.

“We need well meaning people doing what needs to be done to be meaningful,” Hobart said

This means “rigorous and ongoing examination of our own biases,” she said.

This may mean thinking outside of a system that assumes the first language of domestic violence victims is English or assuming they know that help is out there.

“Who are you not willing to go out on a limb for and what’s that all about?” she asked.

Hobart, who has 17 years experience working to end violence against women, suggested small community based groups link with larger mainstream groups to target certain populations.

“The (domestic violence) information is just not where the women are,” Hobart said.

The summit was host to about 100 people including lawmakers and Kitsap County sheriff’s officers.

Tracy Flood, an attorney and legal advocate for domestic violence victims, said the summit is a good start to raising awareness.

“Abuse can range from name calling on a daily basis to pushing and shoving to homicide,” Flood said.

Victims, who span all colors, creeds, and classes, all share the same fear she said.

The Domestic Violence Task Force is a non-profit agency serving Kitsap County since 1995.

Where to get help from domestic violence

24-hour hotline

360-479-1980 or 1-800-500-5513

YWCA ALIVE Program

360-479-5118

Legal Advocacy

360-479-0491

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